Family Connections: Matrilineal Roots of the School Street Community

By Anne Dobberteen

A close examination of matrilineal lines of descent reveals the deep connections of Black School Street residents to each other and the land.  The Gibson and Morarity families are a case in point. Two sisters, Luvenia “Venie” and Martha Gibson, took their husband’s last names and stayed for decades in this area of Fairfax City. Venie and Martha were the daughters of Strother (1846-1927) and Martha Gibson (1844-1926), a prominent married couple in the Black community. Martha had been enslaved prior to the Civil War somewhere in Virginia; Strother was likely enslaved as a child before his father Horace Gibson purchased his own and his family’s freedom from the portion of his earnings as a blacksmith that he was allowed by his white master to keep.

Strother Gibson's obituary, 1927.

Martha Gibson Obituary, 1926.

Horace Gibson owned a successful blacksmithing business in Fairfax County. He was based in an area near Fairfax City then called Ilda. In 1884, Strother bought 14 acres alongside Braddock Road from Albert Dewey. On this purchased tract, Strother erected a log cabin home for his large family of 13 children. Venie and Martha Gibson grew up in this household. Strother was a founding member of the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and active in the state Republican party; he was elected in April 1892 as a Fairfax delegate to the Congressional Convention. He also worked for the Willard family (of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC) for many years, starting his employment as a teenager. He became the personal attendant to Col. Joseph L. Willard during the Civil War before moving to maintenance and service job on the Willard property in Fairfax. Strother’s probated estate included a horse, buggy, personal affects, and $536.78 in the National Bank of Fairfax in when he died in 1927, equivalent to $8,673.25 in 2022 dollars.[1]

Strother Gibson worked for the Willard family on their estate, shown here.

In 1896, Luvinia (alternatively spelled Lavinia, Louvenia, or Venie) Gibson married Thomas Morarity, John Morarity’s son. Seven years later she bought a parcel of land from her father-in-law and thereafter lived on this small holding. Luvenia was active in Mt. Calvary Baptist and organized community fundraising dinners that courted wealthy white Fairfax doctors and lawyers to donate to her church. Venie Gibson died in 1949. Surviving relatives included her daughter Mabel (Payne) and sons Victor, Warren, Lewis and Lloyd Morarity. [2]

Venie and Thomas’s children stayed geographically close to their family home. In 1930, Warren and his wife Evelyn L. Morarity bought land across the street in the Rust subdivision once owned by Murray. This property bordered Route 123. In 1948, the Warren and Evelyn opened a variety store on an adjacent lot, identified as lot 41 in the 1962 tax map.[3] Mabel Gibson and husband Stephen Payne purchased a property a few steps away from her parents’ home in the Barbour subdivision in 1921, and later subdivided this parcel for Mabel’s brother Lewis Morarity and his wife Beatrice.[4] Mabel’s daughter Dorothy Payne and her spouse Lester Page built a home on the Morarity land as well.[5]  Lewis Morarity was a clerk at Mt. Calvary Baptist for twenty-plus years. Lester Page operated a plumbing business with customers in Washington, DC.[6]

Warren and Evelyn opened a variety store in 1948 in that additionally served as a social hub for the community.

Martha Gibson Grooms, Venie’s sister, held title to her own land in the School Street area. She lived diagonally across from Venie on Route 123.[7] Martha married Bradshaw “Brad” Grooms in 1910 in Washington, DC and they had three children: Gilbert, Virginia, and Dorothy. Brad Grooms had a variety of jobs. He hosted picnics and music concerts in nearby Greenwood Park.[8] He also raised hogs, collected and sold scrap metal, and was caught selling alcohol illegally more than once. Martha was employed as a housecleaner. The couple divorced in 1943. That year Brad Grooms bought a lot in the East School Street neighborhood from his brother, B.A. Grooms, next to Luvenia Morarity’s plot. B.A. Grooms had purchased his land from one of the Moraritys. Brad died in 1947 and does not seem to have moved out of Martha’s home onto his new plot; Martha followed him to the grave in 1949.[9]

"Brad Grooms Gives Picnic"

Bradshaw Grooms's picnics were occasionally mentioned in the newspapers.

The land Brad Grooms bought from his brother B.A. Grooms passed to Bradshaw and Martha’s daughter, Virginia Williams, after Brad’s death. This chain of ownership and transferring title demonstrate how pioneering Black families in the School Street area held onto the land as a source of wealth for multiple generations. Virginia Williams eventually sold the parcel that she inherited from her father to the Fairfax County Redevelopment Authority in 1991 for $440,000.[10] Interviewed by the Washington Post about the property transaction, Virginia Williams elaborated on pivotal moments and processes shaping Black history around Chain Bridge Road. She lived in a separate home on a different lot on the other side of School Street at the time. The archived article appears here.

Virginia Williams, Bradshaw and Martha Grooms' daughter, remembered her family's deep roots in the community as developers sought to buy her property in 1989.

These short stories of the Gibsons, the Groomses, and the Moraritys, and the white men who they bought or inherited land from, are just one tiny part of how one of Black Fairfax’s communities became established as property and homeowners during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More remains to be discovered about other School Street families and other Black families in the greater Fairfax City area. Using property records, newspapers, and census records, we hope to broaden our scope and continue to tell a richer story about Black homeownership, community, and intergenerational wealth in Fairfax.

[1] The 1902-1903 Roll of Colored Voters Registered at Fairfax CH Precinct in Providence lists Horace Gibson as a blacksmith in Ilda, Strother Gibson is listed as a farmer in Fairfax Courthouse, John Grooms (Bradshaw’s father) was listed as a farmer in Fairfax Courthouse, at Fairfax County Historic Courthouse; Luvenia Morarity vs. Martha Grooms, administratrix of Strother Gibson, et. Al; Chancery Court of Fairfax County, 1937; case files accessible through FCCHRC; See CPI Inflation Calculator website for monetary conversion,; Hareem Badil-Abish, Shades of Gray: A Beginning, The Origins and Development of a Black Family in Fairfax, Virginia, (Self-published by Badil-Abish estate, 2005), 40-42.

[2] DB M-6 p 81, FCCHRC; Venie Gibson and Thomas Morarity Marriage Certificate, 1896, Fairfax County Courthouse; “Thank You Notice,” Fairfax Herald 11/27/1931, p 6; “Mrs. Louvenia Morarity Obituary,” Fairfax Herald, July 22, 1949, 1.

[3] DB T-10 p 474-477, FCCHRC.

[4] U.S. Census Bureau 1920; Washington, D.C., U.S., Marriage Records, 1810-1953, retrieved through

[5] DB W-8 p 61, DB E-10, p. 119, DB 657, p. 256, FCCHRC.

[6] “Louis Morarity Mt. Calvary Baptist Ch. Clerk,” Fairfax Herald, July 17, 1964, 1; Lester Page’s nephew, Clarence Page, Jr. remembered his uncle’s plumbing business in a conversation in March, 2022.

[7] Martha G. Grooms owned her own lot, lot 16 in the original plat, and then lots 38 and 39 on the 1962 tax maps, within her husband Bradshaw’s subdivision on the West side of Rt. 123 (labeled in DB L-9 p 31, recorded in DB X-12 p 126-7, FCCHRC). Her father Strother built a house on her lot that she had planned to subdivide and sell to him, but he died before he could purchase the land upon which he had built a home for himself on Rt. 123. The land was eventually sold to the Allen family to settle Strother’s estate in 1936 (DBB-12 p 339-344, FCCHRC), and Martha maintained her home on 123 until her death.

[8] Washington, D.C., U.S., Compiled Marriage Index, 1830-1921, retrieved from; U.S. Census Bureau 1940,; “Bradshaw Groomes Gives Large Outing Picnic,” Fairfax Herald, September 11, 1914, 3.

[9]Grooms Bradshaw Adv. Hogs for sale,” Fairfax Herald, December 8, 1939, p 4; “Grooms Brad Arrested for illegal liquor sales,” Fairfax Herald, August 19, 1938; Martha and Bradshaw Grooms Divorce lawsuit deposition and file, case No. 6000, 1943, available through FCCHRC. Even after the divorce went through, Martha repeatedly asked the court to intervene to extricate Brad form the home that she owned.

[10] DB 417 p 59; DB 7860, p 925, FCCHRC.

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